The Culture of Anger

by James Rudy Gray

There are several insightful verses about anger in Scripture. One of perhaps the most familiar ones is Eph. 4:26-27, "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity."

We are never commanded in the Bible to be angry with a carnal rage. The Psalmist reminds us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and anger initially is a response of the autonomic nervous system-it's part of how God created us. We often react with anger when we are threatened, injured, treated unjustly or provoked. It is a reflex. The initial onset of anger is neither good nor bad. What happens next determines the morality of the experience.

We will experience anger. We do not have to act on it or even dwell on it. When we nurse that initial reaction of anger, we sin. When we think thoughts or take actions fueled by that anger, we sin. The Apostle Paul tells us in the passage referenced above that we can be angry but we must not allow this sin to give the devil an opportunity to hurt us, others, and (most importantly) our testimony.

When we feel that first sensation of anger, what can we do next? There are at least four possibilities:

We can repress it, but that often leads to depression. Clinical depression is often described as "anger turned inward."

We can express it but instead of eliminating the emotion it actually aggravates it. Expressing anger can be like the person who said they are just like a shotgun being shot. Once it is fired, it is over and they feel better. But what if you're standing in front of the shotgun? Acting out anger is sin.

We can suppress it by trying to ignore it, shut it off or bury it deep inside us. However, anger is already a major energy burner and repressing it takes a lot of energy. It is not unusual for a person living with suppressed anger to be fatigued, tired, and weak.

We could confess it. We could identify the feeling, admit the reality of it and then talk to God and if necessary talk to another person. It has been discovered that the more a person talks objectively about their anger the less angry they feel.

Chronically angry people are typically self-centered people. One professional has analyzed the sin of anger as follows: "I did not get my way. It is not good for me to not get my way. This (person or thing) prevented me from getting my way so that person or thing is bad. Bad things or people must be punished."

You have to admit that is incredibly self-centered reasoning.

Proverbs 22:24 says, "Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot tempered man." Proverbs 29:11 tells us that "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back."

We know from experience that there are people who are more "high strung" than others, but as far as I know, there is no "temper" gene that has been discovered. According to Galatians 5, outbursts of anger are classified as deeds of the flesh. God has given us the cure for that: self-control. But how does a person develop self-control and thus be able to control their temper etc.? Galatians 5 also says that self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit-correctly managing our anger comes only from the inside-out process of regeneration that the Holy Spirit works in us as believers.

In the end, controlling and overcoming anger is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual resources. If we feed our minds on the offerings of our culture, we are likely to be more given to anger than self-control. For instance, about 80% of television programming is aggressive. If we feed our minds on the truth of God, we are positioning ourselves to be in a much better stance for effectively being angry (the initial reaction) and yet not sinning.

We are not to let the sun go down on our anger. That means we must process the angry feelings. We must do something right and positive about those initial feelings before they grow quickly into something regrettable. If we have a strategy, we can better face the issue when it comes. We must learn to respond in ways that please God and not react in ways that please no oneexcept the devil.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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